The funny thing about shopping around for the college you want to attend is that the sticker price tag means absolutely nothing at all! Most students pay significantly less after receiving various financial aid awards. Sounds great, right!?
Well, the only way to get that financial aid is by completing the FAFSA on time, and the earlier you submit it, the better off you’ll be since the pool of money will be depleting more and more as the application window passes and the deadline approaches. The FAFSA application officially goes live in October, so the best thing to do is to complete it within the first 90 days to get an early picture of what your family’s expected out of pocket contribution will be. But, only 35% of students in the 2017-2018 FAFSA application cycle actually completed the FAFSA in the first 90 days. Too many people wait and wait before completing the application. Don’t be like them! Make a plan to complete the FAFSA on or soon after the release date!
Heads up… You’ll want to grab a piece of paper and work through each of the deadlines below to find your REAL deadline to prioritize.
- The deadline for completing the FAFSA for the federal government to be able to process it and even consider giving you financial aid money is on June 30th. That’s pretty late and definitely not the one you should prioritize, but you should still be aware of it. So if you’re planning to attend college between July 2019 and June 2020, then your last day to submit the FAFSA is June 30, 2020. You’ll need to gather the income tax paperwork for yourself and your parents or legal guardians from the 2017 tax year. Like I mentioned above, you DO NOT want to wait too long to get this application submitted. In your mind, you should give yourself a window of 90 days. So that means you should pretend that the deadline was actually December 31, 2018. If you already missed that date then your deadline is tomorrow! Get on it like… right now! If you plan to attend college between July 2020 and June 2021, then your final federal deadline is June 30, 2021 (PS: Your deadline could be even after you complete your first school year.) And you’ll need to grab all the documents from filing your taxes in the 2018 tax year. I know it can be a bit confusing because that’s 2 years before you start school, but it’s very important to get this right. Make sure your dates match the ones described here before entering any information online. Speaking of entering information, you can submit your FAFSA using the online application. You will need to have an FSA ID created for you and for your parents or legal guardians in order for everyone to sign the FAFSA application digitally. You can create an FSA ID at anytime using this link!
- Ok, time to throw deadline number 2 into the mix. The colleges that you want to attend have their own deadlines for FAFSA – and they might actually be even earlier than the one I listed above from the federal government. This means that the deadline you should prioritize is whichever one comes first. That’s right, you don’t get to choose the latest deadline and get extra time. Nope! That’s not how this works. The earliest deadline is the one that matters most and applies to your situation the best. I know, I know… You’re thinking: “Ugh, this is all so annoying and confusing!” And guess what? You’re not wrong! But, you should definitely not give up now because filling out the FAFSA is the ONLY way to get access to all forms of federal financial aid like Pell Grants (that’s FREE money) or Direct Subsidized Loans (that’s NOT free money, but it’s cheap to borrow). So let’s get down to business here. Each one of the colleges that you applied to needs to know what you put on your FAFSA in order to determine how much financial aid you’ll get for attending their specific school. Once you get accepted to a college, they’ll send you a financial aid award letter with your acceptance. But, if you didn’t fill out the FAFSA on time, then they can’t send you that information. So basically, completing your FAFSA is a must-do item on your to-do list! Grab a paper and pen and visit each financial aid website for the schools you applied to, write down each school’s FAFSA deadline and then circle the one that is the soonest. That’s your REAL deadline!
- And now for the final deadline to check on. On top of the federal government deadline AND college deadlines, you also have to check your state’s FAFSA deadline if you’re applying to any of your state’s public colleges. In order to get additional financial aid money from your state to go to school in-state, you’ll need to complete your FAFSA before the state deadline. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the earlier you can submit the FAFSA, the better! Here’s where it matters the most because state financial is often given on a first-come, first-served basis, which means that they give out award money until the funds run out and then they stop giving money out completely! According to Savingforcollege.com, Students who file the FAFSA within the first 90 days will get more than two times the grant money (on average) compared to the students who wait to file until after those first 90 days. That should light a fire under you!
The bottom line is this: Submit the FAFSA as soon as you possibly can! As you can tell, there’s just no simple answer to when the FAFSA is actually due for you. Figure out your own deadlines based on your desired colleges list and get the job done!